Market shifts are driving the demand for seamless cross-device and cross-channel experiences, and the data that can be captured through different interactions in various channels is in turn driving ever-growing consumer expectations for seamless brand interactions, according to Russell Loarridge of Janrain. This article is copyright 2014 The Best Customer Guide.

At the same time, the media consumers interact with and the technologies marketers use to engage across those channels both continue to fragment. Strategies for targeting customers and personalising their experiences - as well as the data that makes it all possible - have never mattered more.

Constructing the Customer Identity
Not all data is created equal, and not all data is equally easy to get a hold of. In many instances, the more valuable an element of customer data is, the more difficult it is to obtain, resulting in a hierarchy of customer insights that puts the general usefulness of some data sources above others.

The customer identity, which manifests as a centralised customer profile, is made up of several data points that create a comprehensive picture of not only who an individual customer is, but what they do, what they like, who they know, and what they want. In the analogue world of the past, marketers made educated guesses about their target audience and what they might buy based on broad-based demographic segments and extrapolated information about their behaviours and preferences from market research surveys. Today's age of 'big data' takes a lot of the guesswork out of the equation, but marketers have to be more discriminating about the information they use to make decisions.

Data Quality and Value Considerations
Customer data also has particular characteristics that limit its relevance within the marketing continuity framework. The most valuable and actionable data is accurate, recent, and has depth. Additionally, data that is collected during authenticated interactions is dramatically more useful in informing personalised experiences, while anonymised data that is captured when customers have not identified themselves during a brand interaction provides marketers with only generalised insight into consumer behaviour.

It is therefore important to understand the common customer data sources, their benefits and how they perform along these attributes, as well as strategies for collection. Additionally, marketers must consider the difference between anonymous and authenticated data in each of these contexts.

Accuracy, Depth and Recency
Data accuracy can frequently mean the difference between winning and losing a customer, and particularly when that data is used to create a personalised offer. 71% of US and 61% of EU consumers have received offers that "learly show that marketers do not know who I am", according to recent Janrain research, while 51% of US and 36% of EU consumers have experienced a similar disconnect when receiving 'mixed' information in different channels from the same brand.

And while not all of these encounters can be explained by bad data, it does show that when customers give marketers information about themselves, they expect it to be used in ways that enhance their experience with that organisation. But a lot of data that marketers use is less than perfectly accurate-and it hasn't gone unnoticed by the consumers they're trying to reach.

Social login identity providers such as Facebook or Google offer marketers the ability to select specific pieces of customer data (subject, always to customer permission) that go beyond the basic name and verified email address to include elements like a customer's birthday, likes, relationship status, photos, and friends lists, to name a few. Not only can marketers collect hard demographic data such as gender, age, and location to enable better segmentation and targeting in their own programmes, psychographic information about customers' brand affinities, media preferences and general interests can also help organisations identify new strategies for advertising campaigns and co-marketing opportunities.

Data of this depth helps round out a customer identity by supplementing what you already know about that individual from first-party, transactional and authenticated behavioural information, with richer insight into what an individual does away from your digital properties and what they're most likely to be influenced by.

To collect accurate first-party data from customers, marketers must provide an incentive, or some kind of value exchange. One common tactic used by e-commerce retailers, for example, is to offer a discount code on a next purchase if an anonymous site visitor provides an email address and opts- in to future email marketing campaigns. Consumer brands frequently run sweepstakes and other contest promotions to the same end, and many product manufacturers incentivise otherwise anonymous buyers to provide contact and demographic information through warranty registrations.

Providing a digital registration experience in addition to social login enables marketers to encourage account creation in exchange for gated content or site features that an anonymous visitor wouldn't be able to take advantage of. 'Members only' offers might include anything from exclusive access to content or content contributors in the case of a publisher, or 'first-to-know' sales promotions for a retail site. Consumer brands can encourage the same behaviour by building loyalty experiences and reward programmes that not only incentivise the initial proverbial hand-raising, but encourage customers to return again and again and offer up more first-party data or engage in behaviours that help brands identify them as advocates or influencers.

Of course, when customers do 'go dark', it doesn't mean they've always defected; it can indicate that the brand just hasn't given them a compelling reason to come back. Re-engagement strategies like 'We've missed you!' emails and loyalty programme invitations can pique interest and reactivate customers who have not visited in some time. Social profile data is also refreshed each time a customer returns to the site and authenticates, ensuring that any updates to their data are captured by the brand. Offering some incentive to get customers to not only come back at least once a month, but also log in, can ensure that the social profile data stored in the customer identity is always accurate and up-to-date.

Behavioural Data
One additional data consideration is the use of anonymous and authenticated behavioural data. Anonymous data certainly has its merits; many website redesigns are the product of rigorous on-site conversion analyses and can help marketers create web and mobile experiences that are user-friendly and move visitors toward intended behaviours. Basic web analytics tools can give marketers a general sense of whether their messages and offers are resonating and if they're reaching their intended audience.

Third-party and first-party cookies are also examples of anonymous data that is widely used by marketers, but has limited value in the context of marketing continuity. For years, marketers have relied almost solely on cookie-based tracking and retargeting to determine who their audience is and what they do across the web, enabling brands to invest in display advertising that reaches their ideal buyer.

Data accuracy issues abound, however: independent agency studies have found that in third-party cookie data, gender is wrong 30-35% of the time. Authenticated behavioural data, alternatively, is collected when a customer is logged in on your digital properties, and can be easily mapped back to an individual profile. Capturing and analysing a customer's unique behaviour, including what device they're using to interact with you, what they view, how long they view it, whether they bookmark or save content or product to a list, and how much time it took for them to move through the site purchase funnel can provide much deeper insight into how that person engages with your digital offerings, as well as help you identify opportunities for more targeted or personalised experiences in the future. It can help measure response and determine if a message or offer is resonating- and reveal often surprising places where customer behaviour or interest diverges from the expected path.

The customer identity that you construct to power your organisation's marketing programmes should be informed by your business objectives. If you're a publisher, for example, and your most important metric is driving up unique and repeat visits to your website or mobile app to increase the size of the audience you can sell to advertisers, data around content preferences like articles read, saved, and shared can help you serve up headlines that will get your readers' attention and keep them coming back.

If you're a retailer seeking to increase average order size during e-commerce transactions, knowing which products and in what quantity a customer has purchased in the past might help you determine complementary products to recommend or on which to offer a discount. Ultimately, marketers must determine which pieces of data represent the biggest drivers for their objectives and focus on collecting, analysing and using it to create unified customer experiences.